“I revel in your hatred,” a top-hat-wearing, bespectacled Roger Stone says at one point near the end of the excellent new documentary, Get Me Roger Stone, premiering at Tribeca Film Festival on Sunday before its May 12 Netflix release. “Because if I weren’t effective, you wouldn’t hate me.”
The longtime adviser to Donald Trump is, as journalist Jeffrey Toobin memorably calls him in the film, a “malevolent Forrest Gump,” popping up at practically every infamous moment of political mischief and mayhem in the past 50 years.
Directors Morgan Pehme, Daniel DiMauro and Dylan Bank, who spent over five years with Stone, offer a full sweep of his career, including Stone himself, swilling a martini in one of his classic pinstripe suits, recalling his start working to assist John F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign when he was in elementary school.
“I remember going through the cafeteria line and telling every kid that Nixon was in favor of school on Saturdays,” Stone says gleefully. “It was my first political trick.”
The film is broken into loosely-defined chapters, each beginning with one of “Stone’s Rules,” including “Attack, attack, attack. Never defend,” “Admit nothing, deny everything, launch counterattack” and “Nothing is on the level.”
It’s a political philosophy of politics as trench warfare, with lives and reputations treated as chess pieces he can move by calling in smears to The National Enquirer, as the tabloid that outed his own untraditional sex life in 1996 over the election became a reliable and often Stone-sourced pro-Trump news source.
Stone—who says he became a conservative after being given a copy of Barry Goldwater’s Conscience of a Conservative when he was a kid—has political beliefs that are about as opaque as President Donald Trump’s. He has a long and storied history of course working in Republican politics, from Nixon to Reagan, but left the party after the Enquirer story on his swinging second marriage got him ousted from Bob Dole’s 1996 campaign. Since, his politics have taken a libertarian bent, with him marching at the pride parade, supporting same-sex marriage and keeping Nixon bongs at his Florida home.
The documentary superbly connects Stone’s loose devil-may-care politics with those of Trump, the horse to Stone’s jockey who finally pulled off the impossible that existed only as fantasy in Stone’s head for decades.
He calls the Trump presidency “a manifestation of a dream I’ve had since 1988,” when he was the first person to suggest Trump run, as a strong man in the tradition of Nixon and Reagan, and refers to the president himself as a “prime piece of political horseflesh.”
Trump appears as well in an interview that took place prior to the campaign, lavishing praise on Stone as a “quality guy” with a “really rough reputation.” (Even after an acrimonious public split, which Trump has described as a firing, the pair have remained in contact, as they’ve been for decades).
The similarities between the two men—who found each other on the fringe of acceptable mainstream politics at different times in their respective storied careers—makes for the most compelling narrative in “Get Me Roger Stone.”
As former campaign chairman Paul Manafort puts it in the documentary: “Roger’s relationship with Trump has been so interconnected that it’s hard to define what’s Roger and what’s Donald.” Manafort also suggests, as The Daily Beast has reported, that Stone recommended him for the top job in Trump’s campaign.
What the audience is left with when the credits roll shortly after we see Stone pop champagne during an election day broadcast of InfoWars, is the impression that the flashy provocateur revels in his self-defined villainy. He, like Trump, operates on the hate that he generates—powering through and wreaking political havoc like a bull in democracy’s China shop intent on winning no matter how much he has to bullshit you to get there.
“The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about,” Stone says at one point, quoting Oscar Wilde.
That may predict Stone’s reaction to the film, which he has said he is seeing on Sunday with his libel lawyer in tow.
He wants you to talk about him, to think that he is a devilish puppet master behind the greatest turns in American political history. He wants you to think that he is a morally defunct chameleon capable of the dirtiest tricks known to man—that there is a real Roger Stone and the Roger Stone who plays it up for the cameras and arrives at just the right moments to stir the pot.
Get Me Roger Stone does justice to its subject—a complicated, devious and at turns charismatic figure whose political rise and fall is as climactic as his wildest dreams could hope. Sort of like the longshot candidate and now commander in chief he’s still informally advising.